Poets and pop stars
The nineteenth-century British poets, Shelley and Byron, wrote poems which were as popular as today's pop songs. And song writers such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney have written some of the twentieth century's best verse. So what's the difference between pop songs and poetry?
A few years ago, pop poets such as Murray Lachlan Young began to set poetry to rock music with some surprising results. People thought that poetry was the new rock 'n' roll. However, despite the brief popularity of a few pop
poets, poetry and pop music didn't seem to mix. But are they really so different?
If you look back at the origins of poetry, there is a strong connection between poems and popular music. In Greek mythology, for example, the muse* Erato is pictured with
a lyre* in her hand, and looks just like the ancestor of the modern rock star with his electric guitar. In addition, the poets Shelley and Byron were as famous in the nineteenth century as the pop stars of today.
But despite their common origins, there are many differences between poetry and pop music. Pop songs are
always written for a public performance, whereas poetry often isn't. And the lyrics in pop songs sometimes have less rhythm than those in poetry. This is because the music provides the rhythm rather than the words. Pop lyrics are also simpler and often keep on saying the same thing. This repetition works well in a performance and means that pop songs are easier for people to sing and learn by heart.
Both songs and poems tell a story or talk about feelings. Songs in particular deal with the different stages in a relationship, such as falling in love or breaking up. The words and ideas in songs are usually easier to understand than those in 'serious' poetry. However, talented performers like Paul McCartney, or new stars like Robbie Williams, often give simple songs more expression when they perform them. And some of the best lines from pop lyrics are as beautiful as poetry. Look at this extract from John Lennon's Imagine.
Imagine there's no heaven it's easy if you try
no hell below us above us only sky
imagine all the people living for today...
You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us and the world will be as one
So although pop music and poetry have many differences, they do have one important thing in common: the power to make us think about how we feel.
The Daily Express
* muse = a goddess who protected and encouraged music and poetry
* a lyre = an ancient musical instrument with strings
2 Understanding the text
Now read the text carefully and answer these questions.
1 How are Shelley and Byron similar to today's pop stars?
2 What did pop poets try to do?
3 Who was the world's first 'rock star'?
4 Name two differences between pop lyrics and poetry.
5 How can a pop star's performance affect a song?
6 What do both poetry and pop music enable us to do?